The Lord Jesus Christ gave us two specific commands for the Church; to baptize and to celebrate a communion time in honor of Him. Baptism by its nature can only be experienced once per believer, but the Lord’s Supper is to be an ongoing celebration.
The command to celebrate the Lord’s Supper was given during the celebration of an Old Testament feast called the Passover. Jesus said to His disciples that He would celebrate the Passover with them (Matthew 26:18). But during the Passover meal Jesus did something quite out of the ordinary for that feast; instead of focusing on the past event He pointed to a new celebration that would be done in remembrance of Him. Jesus identified Himself with the Passover Lamb and said that the Lamb was “. . .His body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19). In effect Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament feast and made it now a time of remembrance of His shed Blood for us. We find that the early church followed that command and began to practice the observance of the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis (Acts 2:42).
The Lord’s Supper has numerous meanings: one is the remembrance of the Lord and what He has done for us, and the second aspect being the fellowship of this special time. Jesus told His disciples to do this, and it can be implied that it is the Church who is being told to come together and do this in remembrance of the Lord. We are told to remember His death for us, which speaks of the past. We are looking at a time in history that is specific and can say, “this is the moment when Our Savior bore our sins.” And by going through the same motions and words of that night we somehow transport that past event into the present, which makes it very much a part of our lives. In Luke 22:20 Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. . .” So the significance has a present reality in that it instituted the new covenant which is presently at work in our lives.
The Lord’s Supper also has a future meaning which is indicated in Matthew 26:29, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Jesus points us towards the day in the future when we will “break bread” with Him. Thus, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper today, we can think of that glorious day coming, when we will be with our Jesus and enjoy His fellowship.
The sharing of the bread and the wine occurred at the passover meal. But having a meal is not a requirement for the remembrance today. However, the early church appeared to have a love feast prior to the actual celebrating of the elements. However, a church meal would greatly enhance a sense of being a family. The Scriptures indicate that the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup occurred during the meal (Matthew 26:27). But most scholars agree that the “remembrance” only includes the bread and the wine. There is a certain practice indicated in the Scriptures that apply to the celebration of the supper: first the giving of thanks for the blessing of salvation that the elements symbolize (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19, 1Corinthians 11:24-25); and secondly, after the prayer, the elements are shared with the people for them to eat and drink. The actual elements are shown in Scripture to be bread and wine.
The custom of the day had a great impact on the elements used. Bread and wine were commonly used for nourishment and had become symbols of the spiritual nourishment and blessing of God (Genesis 14:18, 27:28, 37; Amos 9:13). Thus they were fitting symbols to be used at that feast. Today because of our different cultures we have somewhat differing elements. While we still use a type of bread, it is the wine that most often is changed. Our society raises people who have had very little exposure to wines as children, mainly due to refrigeration of other drinks. Also our wines are far more “potent” than the wines of the “Bible Times” that were “cut” with water. The emphasis in Scripture is not on the nature of the bread and the wine, but on their symbolic significance.
A few words need to be said about the “bread” used by most churches. Nothing should ever be used that would be offensive to the mouth, for this is to be a rather solemn moment. I have observed that often churches use little pieces of tiny hard bread that has the consistency and taste of a piece of chalk! This is distracting to the communion. The use of “fresh” cracker pieces would be an improvement on the “chalk.”
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56). “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (John 6:54). The efficacy of the Lord’s Supper is in the form of blessings as the two previous verses reveal. Like our understanding of the efficacy of Baptism, we know that there is no saving grace offered through the Lord’s Supper. For salvation is by faith and faith alone. Whenever we are given a command from the Lord, we can expect a blessing from the obedience to the command. John 6:56 seems to indicate that partaking of the Lord’s Supper draws us in close fellowship with the Lord. I believe much in the same way that the sin reduces the joy of the fellowship, so also taking of the bread and the wine restores the blessings of salvation.
John 6:54 speaks of the eternal life that is given to those who will partake in the broken body and shed blood of Our Savior. While this has a direct meaning of initial salvation by faith in Christ, I believe that it could have a secondary reference to the daily blessings associated with eternal life. I think of it in much of the same way as the abundant life promised in John 10:10. Close fellowship with Christ is attained by being obedient to His commands. Part of the blessing is a direct result of the requirement that the believer confess his sins by an examination of his soul. Failure to do this will result in the person eating and drinking judgment upon himself (1Corinthians 11:29).
The Lord’s Supper was given by Christ to the Church through the disciples. In other words it was given to all believers. In Acts 2 we find Peter calling people to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.” (Acts 2:38). The text follows that those who accepted his message were baptized, and in verse 42 we find them devoting themselves to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. This thought is carried on and expanded in 1Corinthians 11:29, where the Bible says that anyone who comes to the table better examine himself to see if he has the proper perspective on the significance of who the Lord is. This implies that not only are we to be certain that Jesus is truly the Lord of our lives but that our present relationship with God and man (especially the Church) be examined for possible need of repentance. This does not mean that we must all be perfect all of the time, but we better be trying to live a lifestyle that is characterized by holiness. Because if we set our standard less than the perfection that Christ calls us to, then we are in danger of eating and drinking judgment upon ourselves.
In the local church the Lord’s Supper must be given careful significance. It should be clearly pointed out that only self-examined believers are to participate. I agree with most Bible scholars who would have the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Sunday) during the evening service. Usually those who come to this service are the true believers. It could also be advantageous to alternate between the morning and evening services to help those who may have jobs that require them to work every Sunday night for example.
The importance of calling for a confession and a turning away from sin cannot be overemphasized. There must be a time for the deep searching of the soul. I would even aid this by reminding the congregation of our local sins, such as; gossiping, laziness, overeating, disregard for the authorities (speeding), submissiveness of wives, and the requirement for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Also it is important to give the people a reasonable period of complete silence to confess their sins silently before the Lord.
Lastly, I would call for a more frequent observance of the Supper. The context of the New Testament gives clear indication that this was done regularly. Acts 20:7 indicates it was celebrated whenever they met together on the first day of the week. Even more often is suggested in Acts 2:46, where they observed it whenever they met together. I suggest it be done on a weekly basis. Many would be quick to disagree, saying it would make the celebration much too familiar. I say no! Because that kind of logic would have us pray once a month, or give our money once a month, or even come to Church on a monthly basis in order to “keep it all special.” The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is vital to a healthy Christian life and needs to be done on a regular basis.